European gun makers trial small arms as drone stoppers

European gun makers trial small arms as drone stoppers

PARIS — Western gun makers are exploring the potential of small arms to counter small drones, turning cheap and widely available weapons into last-resort defenses against an emerging threat.

The shift is playing out on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, where invading Russian forces and defending Ukrainian soldiers have employed tactics to that effect. Now, other militaries are starting to explore the use case, says Italian gun manufacturer Benelli Armi, owned by the Beretta Holding.

“The use of different types of guns in this capacity in Ukraine has accelerated the demand we get for our shotguns to be sold in a counter-drone configuration – we’ve received a lot of request for information for this from NATO countries,” Mauro Della Costanza, head of sales at Benelli’s defense division, told Defense News at the Eurosatory trade show here.

The company supplies shotguns combined with special drone ammunition, which are already in use with the French and Italian armed forces. Dubbed the ALDA round, short for anti-light drone ammunition, this type of projectile is dedicated to shooting down moving targets such as small drones, weighing less than 25 kilograms, at distances between 80 and 120 meters.

Della Costanza said that the growing interest in using shotguns to neutralize these low-flying threats has to do with the cost-effectiveness and ease of operation these weapons offer to forces.

“Considering the size of these drones and the high price of some of the more complex countermeasures used to shoot them down – a shotgun with 1,000 [of these] rounds is at maximum three thousand euros,” he said.

In a video shared with Defense News of a recent customer trial, one of the company’s shotguns is seen successfully countering a small quadcopter at a distance of 90 meters in a matter of seconds.

Another firearms manufacturer in the counter-drone business is Belgian firm FN Herstal. A company representative told Defense News that the firm began testing suitable weapons several years ago, but that the war in Ukraine has attracted new inquiries.

In March 2022, the company took part in a NATO-led counter-drone exercise in Italy, for which it developed a container-based perimeter defense system incorporating a range of sensors connected to kinetic and non-kinetic effectors.

The hard-kill weaponry included a remote weapon station that can be fitted with medium or heavy machine guns or an automatic grenade launcher with airburst munition, all from the Belgian company’s product line.

When faced with first-person-view exploding drones, soldier-carried infantry weapons may seem like an unlikely defense. But, as one Ukrainian shotgun instructor stated in an interview with Ukrainian state-run news agency ArmyInform, small-arms “are a very good chance compared to running, believe me.”

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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